K Speu Families Fear Legal Action From Sugar Firm

Two families from Kompong Speu province’s Omlaing commune said yesterday they feared legal charges after they rejected offers for their land by a sugar company this weekend. The company, owned by CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, has been involved in an ongoing land dispute with residents of the area, two of whom were charged last week with encroachment after refusing to sell land to the company.

Villager Meas Nhen, 41, said on Sunday a RCAF soldier identified himself as a worker for Phnom Penh Sugar Company and urged her to accept $500 in exchange for her 30-by-200 meter plot of farmland.

“When I rejected he asked my and my husband’s name,” she said, adding she now feared legal action by the company, as it has been able to use the court to intimidate villagers.

Another villager, Kheang Savorn, 30, said he had also refused a similar compensation offer for his 73-by-200 meter plot of land made by company workers Sunday.

Mr Savorn said he worried about the consequences of his refusal. “I am really concerned the company will order the court to press charges against me and other villagers who refuse to sell their land.”

“Two other families have been charged for land encroachment, although they gave the court documents to prove legal land ownership of the properties,” he said.

About 700 families in Omlaing commune are involved in a land dispute with CPP Senator and agro-business tycoon Ly Yong Phat, who has been granted a 10,000-hectare sugar concession on land claimed by local families.

Last week two men who had repeatedly refused to sell their land were charged by Kompong Speu Provincial Court with land encroachment, following a complaint by the company.

Human rights group Adhoc said in a statement yesterday the court had charged a total of 11 villagers since March for opposing the sugar firm’s land concession, most of them facing charges of committing violence or arson following several land protests. During a land protest in March villagers burned down two makeshift company shelters.

Adhoc land program officer Ouch Leng said the company had influenced the court so it would charge villagers that oppose the company’s concession.

“We have seen the sugar firm is using the court system to silence villagers opposing the economic land concession,” he said.

Company representative Chheang Kim Sun, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the police, said the court was independent and “not under our influence.” She added the company had pressed land encroachment charges against the two men last week because they had “grabbed land” that the company had bought.


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